Let’s face it, I am a girly girl and I love my girlfriends. Nothing makes me happier than dressing up for a night out on the town, throwing on that brightly-colored cocktail dress matched with high heels and meeting up one of my closest girlfriends for a glass of wine and a lively chat. While I love my husband and we spend lots of fun times together, there’s something about bonding with my favorite females that keeps me sane and happy. This is exactly how talks of a road trip and escape came up, during a conversation with one of my best friends, Laure Sainton. On a lunch date one Saturday, while we indulged on sushi and laughs, we decided it was time to take on a girl’s getaway and take a break from our hectic schedule. On a budget and looking for ways to escape, we picked Orlando as our destination, known as the “happiest place on earth” and land of theme parks galore. But, we decided we’d make it a little different…we wanted to make this visit a girly mix of cocktails, fun and shopping, all while squeezing in at least one of Orlando’s well-known parks.
Laure and I are lucky that we live about a 3-hour drive from Orlando, so we gassed up the car and took to the road on a Friday afternoon, with plans to return on a Sunday. What we learned during our weekend is that first off you need a true partner-in-crime, one that will share laughs with you as you crank up One Direction and Blur tunes on the same road trip playlist. If you’re coming from further than a gas tank away, Orlando International Airport is the best airport to fly into and close to the city’s International Drive, downtown and theme parks. This destination is perfect for a girlie getaway, so I have gathered my top 5 tips to enjoying Orlando with your own lovely female bestie, based on my exciting experience in this fun-filled Florida city.
Stay Where You Play
For our visit, Laure and I were lucky enough to stay at The Castle Hotel in Orlando, right on the heart of the city’s International Drive. The vivid purple and pink lights of the hotel greeted us when we arrived, and we felt like true Disney princesses once we stepped inside the glitzy lobby. The hotel emulates a majestic castle from a fairytale film, with an indoor-art installation and a selection of sparkling chairs and chandeliers. It's perfect for a girls getaway, featuring a Poseidon Spa with a selection of services such as massages and facials, as well as the Antlers Lounge where perfectly crafted cocktails and a lengthy wine list will have you relaxing after a day spent exploring the city. The lobby makes for great pictures, and the hotel is just minutes away from Latin tapas restaurant Café Tu Tu Tango and the laid-back Orlando Ale House, where locals and visitors mingle upon cold craft beers and affordable bar food.
Shop the Day Away
Orlando is known for its outlet shopping, but it also boasts an upscale mall known as Mall of Millenia featuring a selection of high-end dining and shopping offerings. On our visit, we hit up the Orlando Premium Outlets on International Drive, a breezy outdoors outlet mall featuring stores such as Victoria’s Secret, Levi’s, Ann Taylor, Coach and Saks Off Fifth. The Mall of Millenia offers a Tiffany & Co. and a Gucci as well as Forever XXI and Bloomingdale’s, all inside a majestic environment to match … the center court features slim screen televisions with fashion shows running on screen throughout the day, keeping you tempted to match the eye-catching looks shown with what you purchase to take back home. The mall also houses a Blue Martini, where you can indulge on tapas such as chicken skewers, a cheese plate and a tangy martini that the establishment is named after, the Blue Martini, always perfectly shaken up and served with a purple flower and lit-up bright blue neon stick. Sit outdoors and enjoy the cool Orlando breeze as you people watch and enjoy a bite to eat after a day spent shopping.
Art Is Fun
Orlando is home to The Museum of Arts & Science, featuring art and architecture from the 19th century to the present and offering the broadest selection of African art and art of the ancient Americas in the entire Southeast. The city also offers the playful Orlando Science Center, where you can play meteorologist for the day, take in the F-11 and F-16 flight simulators or even take in a film. The center offers a giant screen domed theater for films, four floors of exhibits and an observatory. A great tip is to visit during the weekend, when the center lights up with events such as live and colorful Laser Light Shows and The Science of Wine, where you an indulge on sips and explore what’s behind your favorite glass of “vino.”
See the World
Orlando is home to a variety of theme parks and if you’re a Florida resident you can obtain a local discount with your I.D. If you’re coming from anywhere else, I suggest getting a 3-day deal for Disney or even a one-day park hopper, so you can explore more than one destination in a one-day visit. For this trip, Laure and I had on our bucket list to “explore the world” at Epcot Center inside their World Showcase. March is also the park’s Flower and Garden Festival, making it a lovely destination for pictures. The Flower and Garden Festival features a selection of natural installations featuring popular Disney characters made up of bright flowers and plants. Once there, Laure and I bought a passport for under $10 and had it stamped in every destination that we visited, such as Mexico, Italy, United Kingdom and France. Two great spots to explore with your girlfriend are Italy, where you can try the area’s wines by means of a wine flight for $14 featuring three samples and France, where you can indulge on high-end champagnes such as Moet in a similar flight for around $22. Also, make sure to ride the Test Track, a thrilling Chevrolet ride where you can go from 0 to 70 miles an hour in a “test” vehicle on a safe outdoors track. As my friend mentioned, Epcot is the “Disney for adults,” where you can explore the culture of different countries and also enjoy a few rides in a beautiful setting. As a tip, if you wish to dine in any of the high-end establishments, make sure to make reservations in advance, for the spots get really busy and it might be tough to get a table to enjoy a meal and conversation.
Mingle with Locals
Orlando boasts some of the friendliest locals we encountered, which is why I recommend brunch at Winter Park before you exit and even a visit to the Farmer’s Market around Lake Eola and Winter Park, featuring fresh produce and other products in a scenic outdoor setting. The Lake Eola market is open Sundays from 10 am to 4 pm and the Winter Park market is open Saturdays from 7 am to 1 pm. If you seek some fun nightlife, hit up Downtown Orlando at night, where locals take to the streets to hit up upbeat bars, clubs, lounges and restaurants. Orlando offers a fun scene down Orange Street, where laid-back bars such as Bar-B-Q Bar and indie clubs such as Independent Bar offer drink specials and upbeat music until the city’s closing time of 2 am.